Thursday, January 6, 2011

Afrocentric Encounters in Quito

Black Ecuadorians

Ecuador, December 2010

Throughout my travels, I'm always seeking to make lifetime friends, particularly in Latin-American countries because I aspire to gain fluency in the Spanish language. While developing fluency, I also have an interest in learning as much as I can about the black experience in those countries.

It was through Facebook where I met Freddy and Martha. Not knowing they were both dating each other, they and I have been corresponding for almost a year before my trip to Quito, Ecuador where I met them on the campus of Universidad Andina de Simón Bolívar where Freddy works as a consultant of Afro-Ecuadorian Studies. He is originally from Ecuador's predominately black province of Esmeraldas, where escaped slaves originally settled and fought the Spanish for their independence. Martha, who works nearby, came over to the office and the three of us had lunch in the university cafeteria.

Martha is an Afro-Colombian immigrant from Bogota. She moved to Ecuador to seek better opportunities which she says are not available to blacks in Colombia. This surprised me because I was just in Colombia (Cartagena) before traveling to Ecuador where I saw a large black presence working at the airport, in shops, driving taxi cabs, driving buses; much more than I saw in Ecuador. Martha explained to me that Colombia has a much larger black population than Ecuador, so obviously I will see a greater black presence; especially on the Caribbean coast of Cartagena.

In many countries that I've visited where blacks are a small minority, there is generally an acknowledgment of one other, even as strangers. This acknowledgment could be it a subtle nod or fleeting eye-contact. When I was in Hong Kong, I ran into two merchant seaman from Uganda. Not only did we acknowledge each other, we ended up hanging out. The same in Tokyo where I met a group of Kenyans on the train. I noticed very little of this in Quito. Usually when I see a black face among hundreds of non-blacks, I would smile and say good morning/afternoon, and they'd look at me surprised that I said anything all. Kind of reminds me of when I was living in New York City---you just don't speak to strangers (period).

Gloria, whom I met through a Facebook friend in Quito, Ecuador

When I met Gloria, another black woman I met through a Facebook friend, we spoke over the phone upon my arrival in Quito, and arranged to meet for the first time. Unbeknown-st to the both of us, we passed right by each other in the presidential square. I noticed her but she didn't seem to pay any attention. Upon finding a public phone (una cabina), I called her cell and waited for her at my described location and embraced once we recognized the fact that we passed each other. For the rest of my trip, she became such a wonderful guide about town, I had to pay her something; even after I returned to the U.S. I sent more money. She, Freddy, and Martha, to me, are lifetime friends.

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